Section 34 weighs on legal minds
By Richardson Dhalai Monday, September 17 2012
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Dana Seetahal SC...
With the ceremonial opening of the new law term scheduled to take place today, at least one prominent attorney has expressed the hope that measures could be put in place to deal with the length of time spent during trials saying some criminal cases have lasted as long as six to seven months.
Former Independent Senator, Dana Seetahal, SC, said her major concern centred around the length of time cases take in the High Court saying judges had to take a “firm grip” on those attorneys who seemed to occupy the court’s time on “satellite issues.”
“A lot of time is now being spent hearing irrelevant maters and this leads to a trial lasting anywhere from one month to four, five, even seven months, and bold measures should be put in place to shorten these trials,” she said.
Seetahal pointed out this was one reason why less than 100 cases, and not as many as 300 cases were being heard at the High Court.
She said another area of concern was the delay by judges in delivering judgments saying this was having a “deleterious effect on the administration of justice.”
“There is a particular case where no decision has been given after more than two years after the trial has been concluded and some system should be put in place to address that,” she added.
And asked whether the debate around the repealed Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act, could have any impact in the new law term, Seetahal noted that while the Chief Justice may have a pronouncement about the issue, she did not expect a deluge of cases to clog the system.
“It is an issue that needs to be sorted out and the court may probably hear one or two cases that may be brought before it and this would affect all other motions under that particular section,” she said. However, interim president of the Southern Assembly of Lawyers, Dexter Bailey, offered a differing view saying he was concerned the courts would witness a significant amount of litigation arising from the “Section 34 fiasco” which would add to the already overburdened legal system.
“I think we can expect a lot of constitutional motions especially from those persons who have put in applications under Section 34 and where that goes would depend on the courts but the defendants would do all in their power to have their matters adjudicated upon even if that route takes them all the way to the Privy Council,” he said.
“And even if they are unsuccessful, all of these legal proceedings would take a while to be heard so, I do not believe that we have seen the end of this matter,” he added.
Parliament last week repealed Section 34, which had provided that a judge had the power to dismiss a case if more than ten years had passed since the date of the alleged commission of an offence, rather than from the date of the start of proceedings against the person/s charged, as was stated in the original version of the Act.
Government moved quickly to pull back the law after it was reported that the Piarco corruption cases stood to be thrown out on this provision.
Two accused in the matter, Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson, had petitioned the High Court a day before the Parliament began debate to repeal the law. Attorneys for the men, last Friday indicated the repeal was an abuse and plan to seek further legal redress on the matter.
On other matters, Bailey however expressed optimism that the new drug treatment court, a pilot project which was recently launched in San Fernando, would also begin operations and contribute to easing the backlog of cases before the magistrates courts.
He said an area of concern for southern attorneys was the condition of the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court saying the working conditions were at time unbearable to magistrates, court staff and members of the public.
Meanwhile, prominent attorney, Israel Khan, SC, said the shortage of judicial staff, including audio and CAT reporters were problems which may be addressed by the Chief Justice in his speech at the ceremonial opening of the new law term.